‘We probably took the foot off the pedal’

Brad Hogg...“Having got a second chance, I realise I have to make the most of my cricketing life.”-VIVEK BENDRE

“It hurts to lose the Ashes,” says Brad Hogg, reflecting on the Test series against England recently. By G. Viswanath.

Brad Hogg of Perth Scorchers is 42 but still likes to hoodwink batsmen with his left-arm unorthodox spin. He has played seven Test matches, 123 ODIs and a dozen Twenty20 games for Australia. He hopes to play one more season in the Big Bash before finding a permanent place in the media box.

In this interview with Sportstar, Hogg fields questions pertaining to his passion for the game, Australian cricket in the context of the Ashes series, Shane Watson and David Warner.

Excerpts:

Question: It must be a great feeling to compete and enjoy playing at the age of 42?

Answer: It is great to have a second opportunity. I retired in 2008 for personal reasons, and having got a second chance, I realise I have to make the most of my cricketing life. Yes, you do get limited opportunities, but if you keep striving for something that you love, it is achievable. If I had not retired, I would have still wanted to play Tests because that is the pinnacle. Twenty20 cricket keeps you in the game. The way it is going around the world at the moment, it allows overseas professionals to play cricket with international cricketers. Cricket is a special game.

For how long do you think you can carry on?

I am looking at other options in life. I had a stint in commentary and I really want to get back to that field. I enjoy coming to India to do commentary. It is a special place where cricket thrives. We are looking at how we go in the Champions League; if we (Perth Scorchers) do all right, maybe I will play another season of Big Bash.

It did not take much time for spin to make an impact in the Twenty20 format?

It was a little bit frustrating when Twenty20 came in; they (Australia) would not pick me. Australia’s first Twenty20 game was against New Zealand and they did not pick me. I had played a bit of it in England. Hollioake (Adam) was bowling slow medium-pacers and taking wickets in domestic events and this showed that slow bowling had a place in the Twenty20 format. Surprisingly, teams are playing two spinners today, even at the WACA in Perth. This shows that different elements of the game can be displayed in the shorter version.

Shane Warne, after his retirement, was a success in the Indian Premier League?

It does not matter what form of the game or situation you are in. Spinners have opened the bowling. Dipak Patel did it for New Zealand in the 50-over format. That changed the whole perspective, the way cricket was heading for spin bowlers. It showed the courage of the captains to initiate such a thing. Now we are seeing spin bowlers at the death (in T20). I think I bowled two overs at the death for the Scorchers; one was successful and the other I was hit for 28 by Cameron White. So, you are going to have your ups and downs and this applies to fast bowlers as well.

How has Twenty20 evolved for the bowlers, especially the spinners?

Twenty20 has been great for the youngsters. Although it is a different form, it is making them think quicker, smarter and when they go into a Test match or 50-over format, they will understand the conditions better.

Spinners get wickets in the first six (powerplay) overs…

I think bowlers get wickets because the batsmen are under pressure to score runs. For someone who comes into bowl the seventh over, it is imperative that two or three wickets have fallen in the first six overs. If I am bowling the seventh and none down, it really puts pressure on me and it enables the batsmen to take a few risks. There is a lot of strategy between bat and ball. It is important for the spinners who bowl in the middle-overs that wickets fall in the first six overs.

Has the mindset changed with one-over spells?

Once you get the hang of the game and the strategy of the game, your role in the team is specific and you learn to deal with it. Bowling one-over spells is one aspect of Twenty20 cricket that has grown. Twenty20 is a fair test of the game. I was a bit sceptical at the start.

It is not great being an Australian cricketer, especially in the context of the Ashes series. Since 2005, England has won it four times and Australia only once...

I think it is great for cricket in a sense. If you look at the times when we had the likes of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, and were dominating the world, people were just waiting for someone to topple Australia over. Now teams are beating Australia. The competition has been a lot closer. We struggled against India in India.

The Australian fans are right behind the young blood coming through. We have a lot of talent. The batsmen are there, but they don’t have the runs on the board, except for Michael Clarke and Shane Watson to a degree. We are seeing Chris Rogers now. It is great that they have picked people on merit and form. Our bowling stock is fantastic.

How much does a reverse in the Ashes hurt Australian cricket?

It hurts. But it is a great challenge for Australian cricket because when we were going through a great phase, we probably took the foot off the pedal and we thought we are just going to have cricketers falling from coconut trees virtually. We probably did not have programmes hundred percent in place to make sure that the younger players are ready to take over. Full credit to the younger players; they are really working hard. They are trying to get Australian cricket back on track. All the States in Australia have fantastic programmes and there is lot of talent in the age group of 18-23. We (Perth Scorchers) have six players in that age group. We are here to give exposure to these cricketers. It is a great experience.

How much has Australian cricket changed from the time Allan Border took charge, and thereafter Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting? Mark Waugh and Michael Hussey played around 100 first-class matches before being chosen to play for Australia?

I think we have been a little bit quick to put younger players into the system. We are trying to fast-track them. We had an opportunity to get Simon Katich back into the Test team, but we did not take that. Brad Hodge could have been playing. Look, we were pretty competitive in England. It only takes five Test matches and the young players can score runs and get back their confidence.

Where should Shane Watson bat — at the top or middle-order?

He is a huge talent. He has made three centuries now, but over the next three or four years he is going to make some big runs at the Test level. But he has to find out where he fits best in the batting line-up. It is a difficult one. I would like him to bat at No. 5 and bowl a bit more and I would like Clarke to bat at No. 4. Watson is capable of scoring big runs. He has to work out what exactly he wants to do. The Australian selectors, Clarke and Lehmann have to sit together and decide what is best for the Australian team, whether Watson has to just bat or should they look for another all-rounder. Shane knows that if he is not making runs and if he is not going to bowl, to hold his place in the team would be tough.

What is the best way for Australian cricket to deal with David Warner?

It comes to management really. I think David is a bit confused with his role and that is affecting his decision-making. You have to express yourself and play your natural game, but you have to refine yourself to make runs in the middle.

There are issues with injury-prone seamers?

Yes, there are, at the moment. I think they are having good programmes for fast bowlers. That is not really my area to discuss. We have changed the programme for juniors; they are only allowed to bowl a certain amount of overs in a day, between the age of 12 and 18. But as we saw Pat Cummins was allowed to bowl only a certain number of overs and all of a sudden he turned 18, and he’s bowled the big spells and there is a breakdown. Is research playing too much in the development of fast bowlers? Is it wrong or right? These are questions to be answered.

What is your call on the Ashes series at home?

I hope it is close. To make a call I have to know what the bowling stock is like. If we can find a batsman who can hold his own around Clarke, Watson and Rogers we will be in good shape.

You are left-arm unorthodox, not many have practised this art?

I cannot bowl a left-arm off-spinner. I feel there’s nothing in it. It’s (unorthodox) a wonderful art; you can bowl a variety of deliveries, the top-spinner, the googly, the leggie, back spinners, flippers. Then there is variation of pace, length and width. It’s just great to have all these. It all comes down to practice. Murali would have done that. I did a hell of a lot of target practice, trying to hit different boxes on the wicket. Once I sorted out my stock delivery, then I would vary my lengths and challenge myself. As I said, it’s all about practice.